A Postcard from Russia — Back Home

We returned on Sunday to a beautiful St. Petersburg, Russia.  The weather has been perfect, and it has been great to start reconnecting with family and friends after such a long stay in the US.  Olga took the picture above, in the park across the street from our flat.

We are thankful for the many people who have expressed their love and support for us after the loss of our unborn children.  It’s been a very real blessing to receive so much encouragement in so many ways.  Thank you.

Even as we battle jet lag, we face a busy schedule.  Today I (Mike) was at Elama while Olga was with her sister Alla who is visiting from Montenegro.  Elama is looking very good — the buildings have been painted, interiors have been remodeled, the pavilions are ready for use, and bunk beds are being built.

While we’ve had quite a few people working at Elama, in three days our first camp begins.  We’ll have 30 children from Novodvinsk and 10 adults as counselors.

In a week I go to Montenegro where I’ll meet a mission team from Athens, Georgia; we’ll run a teen camp there. Then I go to Estonia to meet our first mission team to that country. That team will minister in a summer camp with Estonian orphans and will also do some fact-finding for future mission teams.

We are very thankful for the many blessings we continue to receive.

A New Pavilion at Elama

As many of you know, Elama is our camp in Russia. We’re gearing up for the summer, and a team from Athens, GA returned yesterday from building two pavilions at Camp Elama, in Russia. Click here to see a slide show of their first few days. Pictured above is the large pavilion which will be used for gatherings and meals. A smaller pavilion will be used as a summer kitchen.

We are so very thankful for all the hard work of so many people. One of the team members said he was very impressed by the quality of the people working on the project. So, now is a good time to mention a few of those people:

Allen Amason was the US team leader and made this all possible by his tireless work and enthusiasm. Sergei Tovstapyat is the camp administrator and was the project manager for this work. John and Karen Bull helped in innumerable ways. Masha Oshkina is the Executive Director of MIR and helped with team coordination and was with the team for a few days. My wife Olga handled food planning and team administration. Mia Häyrinen came over from Finland to work with the team.

We are very thankful for the relationships that God has given us. Our love for God and for one another is more important that the tasks we do. God does indeed set us together as living stones. And times like this show how true that is.

Tromping Snow at Elama

Sergei Tovstopyat, John Bull and I went to Camp Elama today to look things over and make a few decisions about the upcoming work.

Sergei is building brick stoves in cabins 2 and 3, so we took at look at that work.  We also were deciding how to upgrade the water storage system, where to install the new(ish) water heater, where the work teams will sleep, what to do on an upcoming work day, and how best to start building a fence.  It was a good day.  It’s always great to have fellowship with those men.

The snow was chest high a few days ago, and now it’s down quite a bit and really melting quickly.

Spring is here!

A Postcard from Russia — Camp Elama

Camp Elama is slowly thawing out; Spring is here, yet the snows remain and our work preparing for the summer has begun. We have a good leadership team in place and exciting plans for the summer.

Back in December, Sergei and John laid foundations for two new buildings, and in May and June we’ll have teams from Georgia and Mississippi building on those foundations and doing other prep work.

We’ve purchased a riding mower/lawn tractor which will allow us to clear much more land and create hiking trails. Unfortunately, some items were stolen this winter so we’re having to replace parts of the water system and a few tools.

Sergei Tovstapyat, our camp administrator and general handyman, has begun building wood stoves in the cabins so we can heat them and use the camp for more of the year.

This summer, in addition to hosting several churches at Elama, we’ll run our own camp for the first time. We plan to have 20 children, and we’re also hoping that some young ladies from the Minsk Family Home will come up from Belarus to help. Anya Kazak and Natasha Pavlova will be leading that camp.

It’s going to be a good summer, and we look forward Elama being filled with life once again.

A Postcard from Russia — Foundations

This may not look like very much, but it is the fruit of much loving labor and the beginning of something great. This picture was taken recently at Elama, our camp in Russian Karelia. These are part of the foundations of a pavilion and summer kitchen we’ll build next year.

St. James UMC in Athens, GA has taken this on as a project and will send a team in May to put up the two buildings.

The foundation was built by our good friends Sergei Tovstapyet and John Bull. They had the help of some men (at left) from a nearby Christian re-hab center. When the American team comes to build the buildings, we’ll also have the guys from the rehab center working with them: ministry, labor, fellowship.

We also hope to improve the heating and water systems at Elama, and we’ll try to find a riding mower/small tractor so we can clear more land.

Next summer we will host over 100 children at Elama, in addition to various church retreats, workdays and cookouts. These two buildings are going to be a blessing to many people.

Other quick news: MIR is sending 11 orphans to the US for the hosting program (we have fewer this Christmas because the Russian government is concerned about swine flu and has limited overseas travel for orphans);  we’re already planning next summer’s youth camp in Montenegro;  the Minsk Family Home is very successful after it’s first few months.

The Lord continues to give us abundant life, and we thank Him for it.

A Postcard from Russia — Dedication of Mira

Four yeas ago I  officiated the wedding of Maxim and Anya Zakharov. Two years later they asked me to oversee their dedication of their first born girl, Pelegea. This week they asked me to do the same for their second daughter, Miroslava (who is a real cutie, above). It’s a blessing to have been here long enough to share in their lives as they grow and change.

Olga has been teaching English classes. She started teaching just a few folks, and it’s grown into quite a group. Now she has several people from Street Cry attending classes a couple of times a week.

We had our first ‘event’ at Elama. Crimson Sails, a Christian shelter in St. Pete, took their kids for a cookout yesterday. This was my first visit to Elama this spring, and things were better than I expected since no one had checked on the place all winter. Someone had broken into two of the buildings and used them for sleeping and eating (I think it must have been ice fisherman during the winter). But overall everything is in pretty good shape.

In a week we’ll head off to Montenegro to be with a team from the University of Georgia for two weeks. Then we’ll visit friends and ministry partners in Hungary and Belarus.

Here’s a word from Olga: This year has been very good. We have seen a lot of life happening around us. God has blessed us with new relationships. I’ve enjoyed getting closer to people from our church and getting involved in church activities. Besides teaching English, I have been teaching single girls about married life, and it has been very rewarding and amazing. We do thank God for the life He’s given us.

A Postcard from Russia — Elama, Camp Life

In previous postcards we’ve mentioned the camp we have use of: we’ve named it Elama, the Finnish word for Life (pronounced EH-lah-mah). Before 1939 it was a Finnish health resort, after the war it was a Russian children’s camp before closing about 25 years ago. We’re slowly bringing it back to life, and this is the first of several years of rebuilding that are needed. Still, the fruit of this summer has already surpassed our hopes.

In addition to a few Christian families that are living there all summer, in July we hosted two camps run by a local church. First was a children’s camp with 80 participants and then a youth camp with 100 participants. Since we don’t have much decent housing, the campers stayed in tents. Even the kitchen was under a tent, and the picture at left is of the ‘dining hall’. The church did a great job of improving the land — clearing the swimming area, building outhouses, clearing trash, they even built a dock in the lake.

Later this month, we’ll host a week-long church camp for thirty children and other groups will have picnics. Elama is available free of charge to all. This summer we’ve installed the beginnings of a water system (we now have one sink with running water), we’ve begun repairs to several buildings, obtained a couple of small refrigerators (donations), purchased tools, cleared away a lot of trash and scrub brush, and swatted a lot of mosquitoes! We ran out of money for this summer, so some tasks (painting, roof repair, heating, a new well, etc.) will have to wait until later. There is still very much to be done. Groups from the US and the Netherlands have expressed interest in sending work teams. An architect in the US has agreed to help design a pavilion/summer kitchen that we hope to build next May. There is a lot of activity and many opportunities. Elama is coming to life, just as we had hoped.

Please pray that we’ll have God’s wisdom as we make decisions about the future of Elama — may it always bring glory to Him and peace to the people who are there.


A Postcard from Russia — Elama


This is some exciting news — we have been given use of an old children’s camp! It was a Finnish estate before WWII, and after the war it was a children’s camp. It’s located in a beautiful lake, about an hour and a half north of St. Petersburg. We have use of about 15 acres with multiple buildings.

The camp has been closed for about 25 years so it is in need of serious repair. We’ve been re-wiring for electricity, picking up trash (30 large bags from one small area alone) and clearing out trees and brush. We’ll start replacing broken windows this week and are installing a summer water system. There’s a lot of rotten wood to replace, tools to buy, porches to re-build, elama_2.jpgstoves to install, walls to paint, and roofs to repair. I was working on the toilets (outhouses) yesterday, trying to make them a bit better. Pictured above is a recent MIR work day — of course we had a cookout. In the picture are believers from Russia, America, Northern Ireland and Finland.

Elama is the Finnish word for Life. We’ve named the camp Elama because we feel that the Lord wants us to bring this place back to life so that it will hold His life as His people are there, living together and ministering in His name. The basic rule for all who visit is, ‘leave it nicer than you found it’. It is available to churches and ministries free of charge; God is giving us free use of it, so we’ll pass along the blessing to others.

elama_3.jpgThings are moving quickly — just a few weeks ago we found out for sure that we’d have use of it; we’ve had several work days already, several families are hoping to live there this summer, in July we’ll host a children’s camp (using tents) for about 60 children, then we’ll host a youth camp for young people with about 100 people. In August we hope to host the Royal Rangers, a scouting ministry. This weekend we’ll have two Russian churches come out for work days — clearing brush, repairing buildings, making the place nicer.

We’ll have use of it for about 10 years (the owners are friends and are very happy to have us use it for ministry), so we’re working hard this summer to prepare it for moreelama_4.jpg ministry next summer. We hope to host orphans there as soon as possible, depending on when the facilities are in good enough shape. Perhaps next summer we’ll have a camp for orphans in addition to all the other ministries we’ll establish there this summer. Already a team from Florida is considering coming next Spring to do some work there, and a Finn has also suggested bringing Finnish teams to help. If you’re interested in helping, please send me a note. It’s exciting